India may have slipped on its amazing growth story at least for the time being. The economy has slowed down. The industry has pulled out its stops and cautiously treads fearing another bout of recession. Various sectors are tightening their belts. But, one of the few areas punctuated with a lot of activity is the construction industry. Aggressive promotions play on the middle class dream of owning a house. There is a construction boom all over. Look at Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Bangalore, Mysore, Gurgaon, Noida, Faridabad, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Chennai and so many smaller towns. India seems to be going places If one goes by the huge colour supplements and ads of real estate companies that are reinventing themselves with luxury homes and out of the box ideas.
The moot question is whether these new apartment complexes and offices mushrooming all over are built with an eye on the future. Is it sustainable? Is it eco-friendly? Is even the concept of green buildings crossing the minds of real estate developers? How many of them seem to be respecting the environment? How many buildings can be actually called green? How many architects, for example, are seriously persuading their clients to go in for methods that ultimately save electricity by cutting down heat radiation with special walls and specially glazed windows? Do they go in for solar energy to heat the house or run appliances? Is water and power conserved? Is natural light exploited to the hilt?
Why are they not trying out simple techniques to harness solar energy or reflect the heat of the sun off the roof? You may have the best of architects and builders’ churning out some awesome looking buildings, but in the long run what really is going to matter is whether these buildings have embraced green principles. Here, we are not talking of being idealistic and responsible, but of whether investing a little more in the beginning in creating a green building can actually help you save much more in the long run.
Are design consultants using colors that will either reflect or brighten rooms an extra bit so that lights need not be used during the day?
As it is, power is in short supply all over India. Every watt of energy saved will make a big difference. But dimly lit buildings that do not exploit the abundance of sunlight in India are a cruel reality. As contractors build most buildings, these considerations are brushed aside.
Why are we not making optimum use of our easily available local materials and natural resources? Why are our buildings not eco-friendly? All these questions have simple answers. Most buildings in India guzzle energy because the concept of saving energy was not there when it was being built. This directly impacts natural resources.
Residential, commercial, and institutional buildings together consumed 31% of global energy and emitted 1900 mega tonnes of carbon in 1990.
Let us fast forward to 2050. This would rise to 38% and 3800 mega tonnes.
The National Building Code of India recommends a daily minimum of 200 litres of water to residents. The actual figure is barely half of this. Water could easily be recycled for irrigation and washing. Very soon, India is going to be caught in the pincer of hydrological poverty as water is going to be very scarce. But builders do not talk of recycling water, they do not even talk of rainwater harvesting unless they are struggling to get water every day.
Tamilnadu chief minister J. Jayalalitaa is now insisting that all buildings in Chennai must have rainwater harvesting in place. Every state should follow suit. Legislation is one way to deal with the problem. There have to be strict penalties laid down for architects and contractors who are not following sustainable principles. But when even a draft for an environment policy has taken five decades to surface, a law calling for green principles in construction seems a far cry.
By incorporating energy efficiency measures resulting in returns in five years or less, emissions can be reduced by nearly 400% by 2050.
Greater use of available, cost-effective technologies can radically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, most government buildings pay about 600 crore rupees annually as electricity bills, of which the financial loss due to inefficient energy consumption is about 150 crore rupees. Nearly 25 percent of energy is wasted and if saved, many areas in India will not witness power cuts.
Green buildings take care to use energy efficient materials and construction practices, bio-climatic architectural principles, efficient systems and equipment like lights and air-conditioners. It would tap renewable energy using the energy of the sun. It also would have efficient waste management systems in place that would separate biodegradable waste and plastics. It would use energy efficient and eco-friendly equipment, building materials that are made through recycling like bricks from ash discarded by power plants, water management, rainwater harvesting, proper disposal of hazardous waste, use of natural fertilizers made from bio-degradable waste like vegetable peels and so on.
But all this is not as easy as it sounds. The Indian building industry is highly fragmented and decentralized. Often, its right arm does not know what its left arm is doing. The architects, contractors, hardware dealers, masons, plumbers, electricians all work at different tangents. Each one is looking at short-term business interests. There is little coordination as far as weaving in green principles go. There is also no coordinated government effort to sensitize builders and architects.
There is no concerted movement by the Indian real estate companies to form a common understanding on how they all should embrace green principles and weave it into every building they now construct to reduce ecological damage in the future. They would certainly not do it even if is the right thing to do and it is also politically right. But they would do it if they realize that there are long-term economic advantages. After all, it is a one-time investment that will bring in recurring savings for all time to come. Rajat Malhotra, COO, (West Asia) Jones Lang LaSalle India, says that green buildings would cost just about 5-15% more, but the returns are much more in the years to come.
We must do these things not just because we save money, but because this will help us experience a better and cleaner world.
Inefficient energy consumption patterns by most government buildings result in a financial loss of over Rs 150 crore a year. Former Union Power Secretary, Ram Vinay Shahi, pointed out that government buildings on an average annually consume electricity of about Rs 600 crore and end up wasting anything between 20 to 25 per cent! He was of the opinion that there would be no power shortage if concrete measures were drawn up and strictly implemented to cut down energy wastage.
Buildings in India will soon be forced to follow green principles as builders and architects will be forced by clients to adopt them as it would the only way to cut water and electricity bills apart from benefiting from a sustainable way of life.
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